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State v. Tittle

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 23, 2017


          Session July 18, 2017

         Appeal from the Criminal Court for Wilson County No. 14-CR-550 Brody N. Kane, Judge.

         A jury convicted the Defendant, Jeffrey W. Tittle, of attempted aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault, Class C felonies, for grabbing the victim, placing a knife to her throat, and dragging her approximately twenty feet down a dark driveway into a scrap yard. The Defendant was sentenced to ten years for each offense, to be served consecutively. On appeal, the Defendant challenges the trial court's decision to introduce a video from the responding officer's patrol car, the trial court's decision to permit the jury to view the video more than once, and the trial court's refusal to merge the offenses based on the principles of double jeopardy and due process. We conclude that there was no error in admitting the video, that there was no error in allowing the jury to view it during deliberations, that double jeopardy principles do not bar dual convictions for attempted aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault, and that there is no basis to disturb the determination of the jury that any removal or confinement was beyond that necessary to commit the aggravated assault. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgments. We remand only for the correction of clerical errors in the judgment form.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal Court Affirmed; Case Remanded

          Blake Lawrence (at trial and on appeal) and David Lawrence (at trial), Lebanon, Tennessee, for the appellant, Jeffrey Wayne Tittle.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Sophia S. Lee, Senior Counsel; Tom P. Thompson, Jr., District Attorney General; and Thomas H. Swink and Justin Harris, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

          John Everett Williams, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which James Curwood Witt, Jr., and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.




         The Defendant attacked the victim, Ms. Renee Battjes, by putting a knife to her throat and dragging her down a dark driveway toward a scrap yard. The victim managed to escape and ran toward the main road to summon help. Almost immediately after the attack, she was able to stop a law enforcement officer on patrol, and her description of the crime was recorded on video by the patrol car. Prior to trial, the Defendant sought to exclude the video and to suppress a statement he had made to police regarding his employment.[1] The trial court suppressed the statement but concluded that the video was admissible under the excited utterance exception to the rule prohibiting hearsay. See Tenn. R. Evid. 803(2). The video was partially muted at trial to remove a discussion between two law enforcement officers about the Defendant's prior sexual offenses.

         At trial, the victim testified that on May 30, 2014, she had been walking most of the day to "clear her head" due to financial difficulties she was having with her husband. She had left her husband's vehicle around noon and had stopped by the Alcoholics Anonymous house at some point. She did not have cellular service on her telephone but had been periodically checking to see if she could use a wireless system in order to communicate with her friends or family. At approximately 8:45 p.m., the victim was tired and still a significant distance from her home. She saw the Defendant, who was a stranger to her, standing by a red truck in his driveway near the road and smoking a cigarette. The victim testified that she asked the Defendant if she could purchase a cigarette and that he responded by giving her a pack with three or four cigarettes in it. The victim had a brief conversation with the Defendant, during which she asked him who lived in the house. When he told her that his mother and grandmother lived there, she asked if his mother or grandmother could give her a ride.

         The victim testified that about two or three minutes into the conversation, she began to feel uncomfortable due to the way the Defendant looked at her. She testified that the Defendant also asked her for her telephone number and if she wanted to "party" with him and his mother. The victim felt so uncomfortable that she began to note details regarding the house, including the address, a brown vehicle in the driveway, and the fact that it appeared there had been a yard sale. The victim testified that she told the Defendant that she was tired and married and that she gave him a fake telephone number before leaving. She never saw the Defendant's mother or grandmother but saw a man in a wheelchair by the door. The victim continued walking down the road past a few houses and approached a scrap yard. When she was near the scrap yard, she turned and saw the Defendant running toward her, saying that his mother would give her a ride. The victim refused and turned to keep walking.

         When the victim turned around, the Defendant put one hand over her mouth and held a knife to her throat with the other hand, saying, "[Y]ou're going to listen to me now, b*tch." The Defendant then swiftly dragged her down the driveway toward the dark scrap yard. She testified that she was not good at estimating distances but thought she was dragged around twenty or twenty-five feet, about halfway to a brick wall on the premises. The victim testified she was terrified and thought her "life was over." As the Defendant dragged the victim, both fell onto the cement driveway. As a result of the fall, the Defendant's hand no longer obscured the victim's mouth, and she began to scream. She testified that her screaming appeared to "spook" the Defendant, who got up and yelled, "[S]omebody help her, " before fleeing.

         On cross-examination, the victim testified that she first saw the knife when it was in the Defendant's hand at her throat. She described it as "a grandpa or pocket knife" and stated, "I don't think he could have really cut me with it. I don't know, but it wasn't like a scary knife." The victim clarified that she feared for her life and that the Defendant "had me against my will." She did not know what became of the knife because she was intent on escaping after she fell.

         The victim ran up the driveway and stood in the road screaming, afraid the Defendant would return. After several cars passed by, the driver of a truck told her that a police officer was coming up the road, and the patrol car stopped. The victim described herself as "freaking out, " "in shock, " and "scared."

         Officer Derrick Way was driving on a routine patrol when he noticed cars in front of him braking for no apparent reason. He saw the victim emerge from the darkness, yelling for help, with fresh blood on her legs, arms, and hands. He described the victim as "hysterical, " "frantic, " "terrified, " and "traumatized, " noting that she was crying and talking rapidly. The victim described the crime, and police began searching for the suspect. An officer brought one suspect to the scene, but the victim told them he was not the man who had attacked her.

         Detective Kirk Whitefield spoke to the victim at the roadside. The victim, whom he described as "distraught, " was able to tell police the location of the Defendant's home, which was approximately two tenths of a mile up the road. The Defendant was in the yard when Detective Whitefield arrived, and the Defendant admitted to talking with the victim at his home but stated that he had been in the shower since she left. Detective Whitefield observed that the Defendant appeared to be sweating profusely, although he claimed to be wet from a shower. The Defendant, who matched the victim's description of a man missing his top front teeth, was taken to the scene to allow the victim to identify him, which she did. The Defendant had an older scratch on one shoulder and fresh scratches down his arm. The Defendant did not have a knife when he was arrested.

         The video of Officer Way's encounter with the victim was played for the jury. In the video, the victim described the crimes consistently with her testimony at trial. She was also able to give a description of the Defendant's home and of the Defendant. The victim was crying, distraught, and speaking frantically, and she repeatedly exclaimed, "Oh, my God, " as she described the attack. The video included the victim's identification of the Defendant as the perpetrator and her exoneration of the first man police brought to the "show up."

         Detective Whitefield acknowledged that on the video, he instructed an officer to obtain an arrest warrant only for aggravated assault because he did not believe the proof amounted to kidnapping. He explained that he made the determination less than twenty minutes after arriving on the scene and that the Defendant was charged with aggravated kidnapping after a more thorough investigation. Detective Whitefield could not remember if the victim said that the Defendant pulled her from the road or tried to pull her from the road. Detective Whitefield testified that the victim left town after the attack and that when he interviewed her more thoroughly six days later, she described being moved a distance of approximately thirty feet. He was not able to photograph her injuries until she returned to town.

         The victim was treated at the scene for injuries to her leg and foot. Neither Officer Way nor Detective Whitefield noticed injuries to the victim's neck.

         The victim acknowledged she was charged with vandalism in September 2014, that the charges were still pending, and that she had an outstanding warrant on a failure to appear charge related to the vandalism. She acknowledged it was possible that the prosecution had paid for her airplane ticket and motel room in order to facilitate her testimony but asserted that she had received no promises regarding prosecution on her pending charges. The parties entered a stipulation that the failure to appear charge against the victim was dismissed immediately after her testimony. The victim of the vandalism charge testified that she had no objection to the State's dismissing the vandalism charge.

         Officer Way testified that he searched for the Defendant's knife that night and the next day, but that in his opinion, it would have been difficult to find the knife in the scrap yard. Detective Whitefield also unsuccessfully searched for the knife in the scrap yard.

         Two of the Defendant's cellmates testified that he had discussed the crime in prison. Mr. Travis Bush, who had numerous felony convictions and charges, including aggravated burglary, theft, evading arrest, and drug-related convictions, testified that the Defendant told his cellmates that he was charged with an assault which had occurred in a driveway. The Defendant believed he could not be convicted if the weapon was not recovered, and he told Mr. Bush that he had thrown the knife away and that it hit a trailer. Mr. Bush testified that the Defendant had described the weapon as being "like a box cutter razor knife, " but "not really like a Stanley knife, one that opens up like you cut carpet with." The Defendant stated that he held the knife against the victim's neck and that he cut himself on barbed wire while fleeing. The Defendant also told his cellmates that he took a shower after the assault and that his mother "got rid" of his clothes. After a court date, the Defendant expressed relief that the knife had not been found. The Defendant told his cellmates that the victim had been in a bar prior to the attack and that he did not believe he could be convicted of kidnapping because the offense took place in his driveway. Mr. Bush denied that the prosecution had promised him anything in exchange for his testimony.

         Mr. Leonard McHardie III also shared a cell with the Defendant and had prior convictions for burglary, robbery, and drug offenses, and he was facing a current drug charge. Mr. McHardie also testified that the Defendant stated that he had picked up the victim at a bar and assaulted her with a knife. According to Mr. McHardie, the Defendant stated the victim took his money and ran away. He admitted to assaulting her with a knife and stated he hid the knife in a junk yard and then ran to his mother's house, where his mother hid his bloody clothes. Mr. McHardie testified that the Defendant also stated that he beat the victim with his fists. The Defendant had scratches on his arm from running. Mr. McHardie recalled telling Detective Whitefield that the victim came from the Alcoholics Anonymous house and had ...

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